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Modern Living Disrupts Body’s Internal Clock

Posted Aug 28 2013 10:08pm
Posted on Aug. 27, 2013, 6 a.m. in Lifestyle Sleep
Modern Living Disrupts Body’s Internal Clock

With the advent of electric lighting – as well as other conveniences of modern living – the human body receives fewer natural cues that otherwise signal the circadian rhythm, the body’s “internal clock,” to wakefulness and sleep.  Kenneth P. Wright Jr., from the University of Colorado/Boulder (Colorado, USA), and colleagues monitored eight participants for one week as they went about their normal daily lives. The participants wore wrist monitors that recorded the intensity of light they were exposed to, the timing of that light, and their activity, which allowed the researchers to infer when they were sleeping.  At the end of the week, the researchers also recorded the timing of participants’ circadian clocks in the laboratory by measuring the presence of melatonin.  The same metrics were recorded during and after a second week when the eight participants went camping in the Colorado woods. During the week, the campers were exposed only to sunlight and the glow of a campfire. Flashlights and personal electronic devices were not allowed. On average, participants’ biological nighttimes started about two hours later when they were exposed to electrical lights than after a week of camping. During the week when participants went about their normal lives, they also woke up before their biological night had ended.  After the camping tripwhen study subjects were exposed to four times the intensity of light compared with their normal livesparticipants’ biological nighttimes began near sunset and ended at sunrise. They also woke up just after their biological night had ended. Becoming in synch with sunset and sunrise happened for all individuals even though the measurements from the previous week indicated that some people were prone to staying up late and others to getting up earlier. The study authors write that: “These findings have important implications for understanding how modern light exposure patterns contribute to late sleep schedules and may disrupt sleep and circadian clocks.”

Kenneth P. Wright Jr., Andrew W. McHill, Brian R. Birks, Brandon R. Griffin, Thomas Rusterholz, Evan D. Chinoy.  “Entrainment of the Human Circadian Clock to the Natural Light-Dark Cycle.”  Current Biology, 1 August 2013.

  
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Tip #192 - Stay Connected
Researchers from the University of Chicago (Illinois, USA) report that social isolation may be detrimental to both mental and physical health. The team analyzed data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, a nationwide US study involving 3,000 men and women, ages 57 to 85 years. They arrived at three key findings regarding the relationships between health and different types of isolation:

• The researchers found that the most socially connected older adults are three times as likely to report very good or excellent health compared to those who are least connected, regardless of whether they feel isolated.

• The team found that older adults who feel least isolated are five times as likely to report very good or excellent health as those who feel most isolated, regardless of their actual level of social connectedness.

• They determined that social disconnectedness is not related to mental health unless it brings feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Separately, Rush University Medical Center (Illinois, USA) researchers studied 906 older men and women, testing their motor functions (including grip, pinch strength, balance, and walking) and surveying their social activity, for a period of 5 years. Those study participants with less social activity were found to have a more rapid rate of motor function decline. Specifically, the team found that every one-point decrease in social activity corresponded to an increase in functional aging of 5 years, translating to a 40% higher risk of death and 65% higher risk of disability.

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